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What Makes an Authentic Leader? 5 Examples

Written by Kimberly Zhang
Kimberly Zhang is the Chief Editor of Under30CEO and has a passion for educating the next generation of leaders to be successful.
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You’ve no doubt heard the warning that employees frequently resign because of bad bosses, not bad companies. This may seem like a scary warning until you consider that the reverse is true. A full 56% of professionals would say no to a modest pay raise to keep working under a strong manager.[1]

Consequently, if you want to keep your team in place, you need to focus attention on becoming a truly great leader. So, what makes an authentic leader in terms of attributes, attitudes, and habits?

The question isn’t as tough to answer as it might seem at first blush. The most well-respected founders, CEOs, and supervisors tend to share some distinct qualities. Below are some of those commonalities as well as methods for you to adopt them into your leadership style.

1. Authentic Leaders Hold Personal Values Sacred

Have you ever met a manager who claimed to hold some values sacred but kept defying them? Maybe it was a sales department VP who preached honesty but lied to gain clients’ business. Perhaps it was a recruiter who assured you that your company’s culture encouraged people to take time for themselves—and then made you feel uncomfortable each time you used your PTO.

It’s very difficult to put faith in these types of leaders because what they say and what they do can be vastly different.

To avoid sending mixed messages to colleagues and spurring their mistrust, write down at least five things you value. They could be anything from honesty and humor to spirituality and selflessness.


At the end of each day, rate yourself on how well you practiced your values. Were you true to them? Remember that what makes an authentic leader is being true to yourself, even when you don’t like the answers.

Falling short today doesn’t make you a horrible person. It’s an opportunity for you to lead with your values tomorrow.

2. Authentic Leaders Show Vulnerability

Many people hold onto the notion that you have to be tough as nails if you’re in charge. To be sure, a “line in the sand” attitude can be helpful in some situations.

There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable, though. Thought leader and author Brené Brown has made a career helping professionals understand what vulnerability is and how to embrace it.

Take the idea of being the fount of knowledge at your organization, for instance. Trying to be the all-knowing boss puts up a barrier between you and your coworkers. As Brown explains, “…having to be the ‘knower’ or always being right is heavy armor.”[2]

Can it be challenging to admit to others that you need their help or insights? Is it hard to acknowledge that you’ve made the wrong choice or that you’re feeling worried about the future? Of course. You’re human.


Still, leading with your humanity instead of trying to be an omniscient ruler is what makes an authentic leader. Walking around with your “guard up” all the time limits the bonds you could be forging with team members.

3. Authentic Leaders Have a Thirst for Knowledge

You may not be the smartest person in every room, but you can certainly be the most well-read. Picking up books is a terrific first step toward becoming a more learned leader.

Some of the world’s most recognized business and political figures are voracious readers. Why? They realize that reading helps you become a better communicator, speaker, and goal-setter.

Take a hard look at your schedule. Do you set aside time for learning? Even if you’re not someone who’s apt to pick up a book every night, you can still listen to podcasts or audible books. Or, you could sign up for a self-directed course to make personal discoveries and build your professional acumen. Be sure to talk about what you find out with your team and encourage them to embrace learning, too.

In time, you may even want to launch a company-backed book club to foster camaraderie, collaboration, and innovation.[3]

4. Authentic Leaders Are Eager to Listen

When one of your employees comes to you, do you listen because you have to or want to? The difference is important.


Leaders who listen because they have to are more interested in making the problem go away. But leaders who listen because they want to are genuinely interested in helping their employees. Why? Helping someone solve an issue can be beneficial in the long run. After all, you might encounter a similar problem later.

There’s no doubt that it can be hard to calm your mind and focus your attention when team members need your ear. Research shows that most people forget half of what they hear only moments after they hear it.[4]

Therefore, the next time someone asks for your attention, practice active listening skills. Put away your devices. Look the other person in the eye. Repeat key points to ensure you understand. Take notes if it’s appropriate. Of course, be sure to follow up later and always do what you say you will if you offer to assist with the problem.

5. Authentic Leaders Take Care of Themselves

More than three-quarters of professionals admit that they’ve experienced burnout.[5] As a leader, you can’t afford to allow yourself to get to the stage of true burnout. If you do, you won’t be effective and you may end up hurting your organization. This means you need to be like other strong leaders and make time for yourself.

Several fantastic outcomes will happen when you begin to prioritize your health and wellness. According to studies, you’ll sleep better and feel more relaxed, which will allow you to absorb information more easily. Though it can be challenging to stop working overtime or neglecting yourself in favor of your job, you owe it to yourself to try.

Understanding What Makes an Authentic Leader Gets You Closer to Being One

Now that you know what makes an authentic leader, you can start to work on new characteristics and behaviors in your everyday life.


In time and with effort, you’ll become a more trustworthy, reliable leader. And you’ll have an incredibly devoted, engaged team to prove that you’re on the right path.

Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Solutions via unsplash.com


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